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Why do they call it Northwest?

Ben Steelman

It is a puzzlement — why is the most northeasterly of Brunswick County’s six townships called “Northwest”?

The name goes back a long way. Wills and other documents as early as 1788 were referring to the Northwest community, Northwest township or Northwest district (although occasionally they spell it “North West” or “NorthWest.”) In 1880, an article in The New York Times accused local Democrats of closing the Northwest Township polling place too early, preventing dozens of Republicans from casting their ballots. In 1888, President Grover Cleveland, touring by private train, got off at Farmers Turnout (now called Maco), in Northwest Township for a brief whistle stop. According to period accounts, locals cheered and erected a wooden arch in the president’s honor. (It was probably about this time that someone told Cleveland the story of the “Maco Light” ghost.)

The town of Northwest, located a short distance off U.S. 74 near Sandy Creek, was incorporated in 1993. In the 2000 Census, its population was 671; by 2003, town officials claimed 837 residents.

But how did the name “Northwest” get started? According to David Corbitt in “The Formation of North Carolina Counties,” the name dates from the 1700s when the Brunswick River, which flows through part of the township, was often identified as “the Northwest Cape Fear River.” James Sprunt, in his “Chronicles of the Cape Fear” writes that in colonial times, the Brunswick actually formed the main channel of the Cape Fear, while the channel that runs by modern-day downtown Wilmington was only a side branch.

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